"The Oil Is Not Gone": BP Tries to Block Gulf Residents from Shareholder Meeting
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Editor's note: Antonia Juhasz will appear on Democracy Now! today to discuss her experience at the BP shareholder meeting.
“There’s no way BP will deny us access. They’d be insane to do so. For one thing, they’d be breaking the law. For another, it would be the public relations equivelant of Tony Hayward’s ‘I want my life back’ debacle in response to the oil spill. Shutting Gulf Coast residents out of the first shareholder meeting since the Gulf oil disaster? Ridiculous.”
I don’t know how many times I said those words and to how many reporters in the week leading up to BP’s annual shareholder meeting in London on April 14. I also could not have been more wrong. Five Gulf Coast residents made the long trek to London to attend the meeting, and five Gulf Coast residents were denied entry.
I traveled to London for BP’s first annual meeting since the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig off the coast of Louisiana on April 20, 2010 and the subsequent 210 million gallon oil gusher.
I joined Gulf Coast residents directly harmed by the disaster and leaders of the communities within which they live and work: Tracy Kuhns, Mike Roberts, Byron Encalade, Diane Wilson, and Bryan Parras. I came because I had written a book about the disaster in which all five played a part. We came to ensure that BP’s disaster in the Gulf would not be forgotten and to hold BP to account for its devastating and ongoing failures that led to, perpetuated, and compounded the tragedy.
A BP shareholder had given each a proxy, granting them the legal right to take that shareholders place in the meeting.
We had no illusion that BP was unaware of who we were or why we were there. We wanted them to know. In countless interviews that week, the Gulf Coast residents made their concerns well known to BP and the public: the oysters are not back, the shrimp are not back, their people are sick from oil and dispersant, they have no idea when life will get back to normal, and neither BP nor the federal government’s Kenneth Fienberg have paid the necessary cliams on which the Gulf Coast community is supposed to live. In fact, of the hundreds of thousands of claims filed by Gulf residents who have lost income as a result of the disaster, less than 40% have even been processed, much less paid out.
"We came to deliver the message that BP needs to take responsibility for the drilling disaster,” said Tracy Kuhns, a fisherwoman from Barataria, Louisiana and Director of Louisiana Bayoukeeper. “The oil is not gone. Dead wildlife are washing up on our shores by the hundreds. Entire livelihoods are in peril.”
At a teach-in organized by the UK Tar Sands Network on April 12, Tracy’s husband, shrimper Mike Roberts, brought audience members to tears when he shared the story of the first time he encountered BP’s oil. Within miles of heading out from a boat from his backyard, Roberts and his son found themselves encircled in oil and unable to find a path out. Roberts heart broke as he realized the extent of the damage to his beloved Bayou and as he feared for the health and future of his son.
Byron Encalade is the President of the Louisiana Oystermen Association and a leader of African-American and minority oyster fishermen. “I came to London to represent the poor fishers of my community,” Encalade told a BBC radio audience. “I have twelve families that directly depend on my own business. They, and the rest of our community, have not worked nor received claims on which to live since BP’s disaster struck.” Diane Wilson, a fourth-generation shrimper from the Texas Gulf Coast and a founding member of Code Pink Women for Peace came to London to present the 2010 Black Planet award to BP’s new CEO, Bob Dudley, in person. Bryan Parras, a Gulf Coast Fund Advisor with the Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, (t.e.j.a.s.), came to tell of the impacts of oil operations on his Houston community and to support the rest of the group.